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H1N1 vaccine doses available

ALBANY -- Parents in Southwest Georgia have another chance to get their children fully vaccinated for H1N1 before the holiday season starts.

Around 1,700 more doses of the nasal spray vaccine are now available in time for children who need a second dose to achieve complete immunity.

If it has been at least 28 days since their child's first dose, Southwest Public Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant is encouraging parents to take advantage of the supply and make sure their children are fully vaccinated while it's still there.

"We don't know what is going to happen as we get into colder weather," she said. "We are still seeing higher numbers (of flu cases) than we usually see. We know in general with flu pandemics you see more than one wave."

Approximately 1,730 children ages 2 to 9 in the district's 14-county area have gotten their first dose.

"For us, locally, the first wave started in the summer," Grant said. "We've seen it peak and the rate decrease. We have gone through the first wave; we have not seen any indication at this point that we are in another wave -- yet."

The doses have been sent to all the county health departments within in the Southwest Public Health District, plus five physicians' offices and four nursing homes in the area.

The nasal mist, also known as LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine," is made with live, weakened flu viruses and is only for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant.

Children who received their first dose of H1N1 vaccine in the injectable form can get their second dose as a nasal spray as long as they don't have any of the contra-indications, such as compromised immune systems or conditions like asthma.

"They can, in fact, get the nasal midst," Grant said.

The health district received the new supply of H1N1 nasal spray vaccine late Thursday and began transporting it Friday. Area child care providers who had signed up to receive vaccine and met required federal and state guidelines also received an allotment from the new supply, which accounted for 210 doses.

H1N1's highest attack rate is in children and young adults who have no immunity to it. The lowest H1N1 infection rates are in adults 65 and older. However, older adults who do catch this virus are at risk of significant illness. The doses recently distributed to nursing homes have been set aside for staff.

Even though older adults are not among the first designated to receive the inoculation, people 65 and older can get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, and they are prioritized to receive antiviral medication if they develop flu-like symptoms. These medications are most effective when they are administered within the first 48 hours.

Eventually, older adults and others not in priority groups will be able to get the H1N1 vaccine. Production delays continue to hobble vaccination efforts, so officials don't know when they will be able to open up the vaccine to more of the population.

"We just have to be ready for it when we get it (the next vaccine shipment)," Grant said.

There is no indication as to when another shipment might come. Until there is enough of a supply to allow it, Grant said there will likely not be any mass clinics in the health district.

For the time being, the priority population for the nasal mist vaccine includes healthy individuals ages 2 to 24, people living with or caring for children younger than 6 months of age and health care and emergency personnel with direct patient contact.

The health district continues to recommend basic prevention measures, such as:

Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

Cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

In the event of a flu-like illness onset, stay home until symptom-free for 24 hours.

Keep sick children at home.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Get a seasonal flu vaccination as soon as possible.

For more information about H1N1 flu, go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/ or call the district's toll-free flu hot line at (800) 829-2255.